So much of our lives are intertwined with technology, yet it is often difficult to ascertain the true ownership of digital assets.
In the case of re Scandalios (2017-2976/A N.Y. Surr. Ct. 2019), Apple have been ordered to allow a grieving husband access to his deceased husband’s Apple account.
When Ric Swezey passed away, he had not considered his digital presence when making his Will, and did not authorise his husband to have access to it. This inadvertently restricted his husband’s access to photographs of their life together.
The potentially landmark ruling split digital assets between what it considers electronic communication and non-electronic communication. Electronic communication would only be legally passed on to executor’s through the permission of the deceased through a legitimate Will.
The court found that photographs on the other hand are not a form of communication. They were taken and stored using the ease of which the technology allows. The photographs were therefore released by the court.
Although this case refers to US Law it will be interesting to see if cases like these will make it easier to access digital assets in the future, and whether rulings in England and Wales will follow suit.
Leigh Sagar, Chairman of the STEP Digital Assets Special Interest Group, comments: “Although this case refers to laws in the US, it is universally the case that all persons using and controlling digital data should be able to have some control over the use and enjoyment of that data after death or incapacity. It is important that their personal representatives and attorneys are able to find and access their computing devices, including crypto-asset wallets.” “Modern devices, such as mobile phones, are supplied with security that is difficult to break in normal circumstances and supplying passwords for access to these devices can provide comfort. But these modern devices tend to be used to store all kinds of important and personal information whose privacy should be protected, so that it is essential that passwords be kept in a safe place until needed.”